NBA, please revisit the one-and-done rule

NBA, please revisit the one-and-done rule

Dear NBA,

It’s time to revisit the one-and-done rule.

The University of Kansas basketball program has produced seven one-and-done basketball players. Seven players who played one year with the Jayhawks before moving on to the fame and fortune of the NBA.

The one-and-done rule didn’t exist until 2005, when, then commissioner David Stern, called for a higher age-limit to enter the NBA. The concession closed the collective bargaining agreement, but possibly hinders the potential of talented players who could enter the NBA out of high school.

And that agreement was over ten years ago. It’s time for a change.

I don’t consider myself an advocate for encouraging people to completely bypass college to enter professional sports. Nor have I ever voiced concerns against it. I hate the one-and-done rule, but maybe that’s because it harms more than it helps?

It’s hard to know for certain if a high school athlete will make it in the professional sports world. Sometimes it’s still hard after an athlete spends four years in collegiate athletics.

Basketball is even more unique. Unlike most sports —baseball, soccer, football — it’s a five-on-five game. One star player can change the game — and almost nothing is more valuable than the first round pick in the NBA draft. It means you’re one of the few, the elite.

So, if the one-and-done rule isn’t working, what’s the solution?

There’s been a lot of time spent talking about amateurism and paying athletes to play at the collegiate level. I don’t think that solves the one-and-done problem. Others have discussed a “two-and-done” rule. I don’t think that solves the problem either.

Instead, I think the NBA needs to reconsider the rule altogether. The NBA needs to adopt something similar to baseball’s draft rule.

In baseball’s official draft rules, it states that these are the categories of eligible players to be drafted:

  •    High school players, if they have graduated from high school and have not yet attended college or junior college;
  •    College players, from four-year colleges who have either completed their junior or senior years or are at least 21 years old; and
  •    Junior college players, regardless of how many years of school they have completed

After the selections, a club retains the rights to sign a selected player until about two months after the draft, or until the player enters/returns to college. If a player is not drafted and does not sign with a club, he may be re-drafted in a future year’s draft — as long as he meets the above criteria.

It would also be beneficial if athletes were allowed to meet with an agent without costing them NCAA eligibility. It only makes sense that a player (and family) would want to consult with an agent who could walk the athlete through the draft process. The player would sever ties with the agent if he remained un-drafted and wished to play at the university-level.

If the NBA were to adopt rules like this someone like Cliff Alexander would’ve had a chance to return to KU, and players like Josh Selby could’ve entered the draft straight out of high school.

A guideline like that also frees the athletes from having to “wait out” their time in college. It’s obvious when a phenomenal athlete joins a university’s basketball squad that he’s not going to be focused on academics. Wouldn’t you be dreaming about the NBA and making millions, too?

So, maybe former commissioner David Stern advocated that the one-and-done rule “produced better players” to allow for “better basketball,” but I’m not buying it.

Look at the system that the University of Kentucky and Duke have created (and thrived in). John Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski market to the one-and-done players; the coaches don’t discourage from entering the draft and win titles because of it.

I still hate it. I’m glad KU has only had seven one-and-done guys ever. (Joel Embiid, Ben McLemore, Andrew Wiggins, Xavier Henry, Kelly Oubre, Jr., Cliff Alexander, and Josh Selby)

NBA, get rid of the one-and-done rule. Throw it in the garbage. Start over. One year in college doesn’t magically add maturity and talent to a player. Maybe those players would be better in the D-Leagues or on international soil…Selby?

The one-and-done rule needs to be re-visited. Let these ballers chase their dreams — maybe the next MJ or Lebron is out there waiting for his chance.

It’s time for change.

Lessons from ‘OJ Made in America”

Lessons from ‘OJ Made in America”

By Heather Nelson

(Published June 29, 2016)

Orenthal James Simpson had that certain charm that let him get away with certain things. “Juice,” as he was known to his fans and friends, had a way about him that you don’t see today with modern athletes. O.J. Simpson was able to get away with whatever he wanted, including murder.

I watched O.J. Made in America, the 30 for 30 documentary event directed by Ezra Edelman, knowing the basics of the case. I knew about O.J. Simpson’s time with USC and about his football stardom. I knew he was accused of a double-murder and was found not guilty. I knew that O.J. was later jailed for robbery. I knew about the trial’s media craze.

I didn’t know about O.J.’s background — about how he spent his life working to be well-liked and accepted and famous. I didn’t know about the racial tensions in Los Angeles like that the police brutality had gotten out of hand. Or that the police officers who beat Rodney King to death went free. I didn’t know O.J. separated himself from the race issue. And I definitely didn’t comprehend how well-liked O.J., the football player, was — so loved that it seemed preposterous to believe he killed two people, one being his wife.

I found myself becoming slightly more enraged as the hours dragged on. I grew up in post-O.J. America. All I’d ever known about the case, or about O.J., was that most people believed (and knew) he was a murderer. Of course, my opinion of him was shaped by those around me, so I never once considered pre-trial O.J. — the O.J. that America knew well before he committed the double-murder.

The two major themes in this documentary, race and fame, encompass all that O.J. was — and wasn’t. O.J. obsessed over obtaining fame. In the opening of the documentary he said, “As a kid growing up in the ghetto, one of the things I wanted most was not money, it was fame. I wanted to be known. I wanted people to say, ‘Hey, there goes O.J.’”

Director Edelman spends plenty of time revealing O.J. the star: O.J. at USC, O.J. with the Buffalo Bills, O.J.’s partnership with Hertz. I started to believe in his charm, to understand the man that America loved so much. White America loved him because he separated himself from race. But, like many African Americans, I take issue with his stance which was selfish and careless about paving the way for others who would follow him.

If you didn’t already know, O.J. didn’t fit in with the rest of black America. He didn’t weigh in on the racial issues of the time (Los Angeles was the center for racial inequality during O.J.’s college years and beyond as there were major riots and, notably, Rodney King’s wrongful death on the hands of the LAPD). While the Black Panther Party and athletes like Muhammad Ali brought race to the forefront, O.J. served as the counter-revolutionary athlete. O.J. made people feel good, and he made people forget about the more serious issues plaguing the country. It doesn’t seem too hard to comprehend why he was welcomed by white society. He wasn’t slamming harsh truths in their faces or calling for racial equality. O.J. Simpson’s selfish ambitions made him what he was — an icon.

Enter Nicole Brown. O.J. claimed Nicole as his the very first time he met her. He bought her a house and a car. It wasn’t long before O.J. made Nicole forever his through matrimony. According to the documentary, O.J. felt entitled to anything he wanted, and I don’t doubt that Nicole was another of O.J.’s possessions. O.J. told Nicole how to be, where to be, and he never gave up his control over her. It was obvious he was jealous. Nicole’s murder was preceded by numerous domestic violence calls to 911 and logs of her abuse written in a private journal. But, O.J. loved Nicole, so he’d never hurt her, right?

Everything that followed the deaths of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson was pure chaos. The Bronco chase. The media craze — cameras allowed in the courtroom. (WHAT?) The legal teams. Black America ready to defend Simpson. The gloves. The DNA evidence. Johnnie Cochran. The deliberation. It all culminated to O.J.’s acquittal.

That was payback for Rodney King.

The interviews with the jurors (and with O.J.’s former agent) were most telling. It’s clear to me, now, how O.J. was set free. The jurors, who were presented some telling evidence (before OJ tried the gloves on), decided to make a statement. Blacks would not go unnoticed or suffer injustices again. By letting O.J., a black man go free, it gave hope to the many African Americans who had been accused of a crime. It didn’t matter if O.J. committed the murders — to blacks, it mattered that he walked free and was given a second chance to live his life.

Now, O.J. Simpson sits in jail for robbery. All the witnesses testified against him, and maybe everything about that case wasn’t fair. But should O.J. really complain about fairness?

O.J. Made in America left me thinking. Has our country progressed as far as we think it has? Or is race still a big issue, especially in the justice system? Are there racial (and other) inequalities still existing in America? How do we fix them? How do sports serve as a means to speak on (or not speak on) these issues? It feels like this same struggle continues today. It’s déjà vu. And I’m not sure how to fix it.

To watch all parts of the documentary, click here.

An apology to Minor League Baseball

An apology to Minor League Baseball

By Heather Nelson

(Published June 13, 2016)

I’m breaking from my usual format to write about something that’s been on my mind this past week. I woke up to a text Wednesday morning, a day after my weekly Storm Chasers write-up was posted.

“So, you don’t think minor league teams matter?” the text read.

Immediately, I wondered what I’d said that had given someone this impression. I looked back to my post.

…Or is it because the Royals (and Storm Chasers) experienced so much success the past couple of years that it’s time for suffering? It’s only June — and Triple-A doesn’t really matter all that much. This I can say with some certainty: The Royals/Storm Chasers aren’t doomed.

This comment is misleading. I feel the need to clarify a few things — mostly because as a baseball fan I can’t let this comment hang.

Do I think minor league teams are important? Of course I do. Do I think most people care about the wins and losses of their MLB team’s affiliate(s)? No. Does that make the minor leagues any less legitimate? No.

Minor League Baseball allows for player development and provides opportunities for players not yet called up to compete in Major League Baseball. The minor leagues are divided into five classes: Triple-A, Double-A, Class A (Single A), Class A Short Season, and Rookie. Each of the five tiers provides players with a different level of competition and development.

In the Rookie league, players compete in a shorter season and spend time honing their skills. It’s about development at that stage. Class A Short Season allows college players to play with their college team, then be drafted (first week of June) and signed to be placed in a league. Class A-Advanced plays a full season and is often a second or third promotion for minor league players.

I’ve been to a few Rookie League games (in Grand Junction, CO). The Grand Junction Rockies stadium is always far from sold out and most of the spectators are old men or families looking to spend a weekend afternoon (or evening) outside. It’s a cheap ticket, and at Stocker Stadium, there were fun beer promotions. It’s a shame I wasn’t 21 at the time. I didn’t know that the Rookie League existed until 2013. Shamefully, I had to ask my dad all about it. A few notable former Grand Junction Rockies: Todd Helton, Mike Napoli, David Dahl, and Jon Gray. (The last two are young Rockies players that I had the privilege of actually watching.) My point by mentioning all of that: Most casual baseball fans don’t follow their teams as in-depth as I do. I get that from my dad.

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At a Grand Junction Rockies game with Corky the Coyote.

I’ve known for a while the importance of Double-A and Triple-A baseball. Players in Double-A are typically a team’s top prospects. Players can jump from Double-A to the majors because of the competition at this level; they’re playing against other prospects instead of major and minor league veterans in Triple-A. Young players and veterans play at the Triple-A level. There are career minor leaguers, who may have been former prospects that were never quite good enough to earn a spot on the major league roster. On September 1, when the roster expands, Triple-A players on the 40-man roster can be invited to join the team.

So, basically, the Minor League Baseball system is very important. It helps with development. It allows for rehabilitation. It serves as means for scouting. But, you won’t be able to convince me that all baseball fans care about the five tiers of the minor leagues, and that they scout their own teams to see who the team’s future star will be. (This sounds like I’m describing my dad.)

No, it doesn’t make the Omaha Storm Chasers, Pawtucket Sox, Tennessee Smokies, Grand Junction Rockies, or Greenville Drive any less important. And my comment in last week’s post wasn’t supposed to suggest that the minor league system is unsuccessful.

So, I edit my statement. Triple-A baseball does matter; all minor league baseball does. But at what degree you, as a fan, choose to follow each league — that’s up to you. I’m choosing to not stress out if the Omaha Storm Chasers lose a few games. It’s going to happen. (P.S. the Chasers dropped their last six games — don’t panic, please.) And, as most people know, I have to save my energy for the Red Sox, who I’m just hoping don’t implode in these next few months.

I don’t think it’s necessary for every baseball fan to understand all of the logistics of sport. Sure, it makes it more fun, but that’s my personal opinion.

Moving on from Kansas hoops heartbreak

Moving on from Kansas hoops heartbreak

By Heather Nelson

(Published April 4, 2016)

It’s been a week since the Kansas men’s basketball team broke my heart in the Elite 8. Somehow, I knew going to watch the game against Villanova in a public place was a bad omen. I still did it.

In Omaha there aren’t many Jayhawk fans. Most people don’t care much about college basketball, but the ones that do are Creighton fans. (I wonder if those fans were cheering against their conference that night?) So, I stood out at the Buffalo Wild Wings bar. I wore my jersey, Jayhawk Zubaz leggings and tied my “lucky” Kansas sweatshirt around my waist. The restaurant manager joked with me about my team loyalty. (He asked me, “Why Kansas?”, but assured me he wanted them to win it all “for his bracket.”)

I ordered a Cold Snap — maybe that’s where I went wrong — and settled in for the game. Some guys in the back of the bar area mimicked my chants and cheers, but I just waved at them, as if I wasn’t extremely annoyed by their antics. The first half couldn’t have gone much worse. Villanova was dominating, and Kansas couldn’t drain any 3-pointers. It was like I had predicted, “live by the three, die by the three.” But I still had faith.

My prayers went unanswered.

Slowly the game started to slip through Kansas’ fingers. I prayed to James Naismith — the obvious god of basketball — to “please give us a win.” It didn’t work. Kansas lost. I ordered three shots — two Fireball and a Rumchata. I cried. And then, drunk-me realized that the world would be OK.

Of course, I’m still bitter that the Jayhawks lost. I wanted to see this spectacular season complete with a NCAA title win. This team had accomplished so much this year that far exceeded my expectations. Maybe that’s where I got greedy — where most Kansas fans got greedy. We started to really enjoy success. This team earned the University Games gold medal, which was a win against Germany. This team won the Maui Invitational. This team clinched its 12th straight conference title and won the Big 12 conference championship. And finally, this team advanced to the Elite 8.

Bill Self’s Jayhawks gave fans so much to root for this year. Guys like Wayne Selden and Frank Mason, who’ve worked hard to earn starting spots on the team, dominated play. Perry Ellis finished a great senior season.

I saw reports last week saying that Self was to blame for a “disappointing” season. I think it was quite the opposite. Would Self earn coaching honors if he was dragging his team down? No.

Basically, after a week to let that Elite 8 loss soak in, I’m OK.

Spring is often equated to new beginnings. Almost perfectly, — for me at least — baseball season just began. As one season ends, another begins. I won’t be watching the national championship game — mostly because there’s no “lesser of the two evils” in this scenario. My attention has turned to baseball from now until October. College basketball will be waiting for me, then.

Funny how sports break our hearts, but also mend them.

Why being a KU fan sucks (sometimes)

Why being a KU fan sucks (sometimes)

By Heather Nelson

(Published December 14, 2015)

Let me start with a disclaimer. I love the University of Kansas, and I am very proud of my school. There’s always a small portion of each fan base that ruins it for the rest. That’s what this list is for. Here’s why being a Kansas fan sucks, only sometimes.

  1. The “woo” during the Rock Chalk chant: Please for the love of God, STOP THE WOO. (It makes the chant much less eerie, people.)
  2. Kansas State fans: They’re like the little brother who won’t stop annoying us. Kansas fans don’t care about K-State fans. Kansas fans cared about Missouri (not anymore, though, because they left for the SEC).
  3. Roy Williams: Who needs him? Bill Self for President.
  4. Football: Yes, Kansas fans know the football team sucks. No, we don’t need people to remind us that our team is terrible. Yes, we live for basketball season.
  5. Frustration: Sure, Kansas basketball secured the Big 12 title for the past 11 years, but the team has yet to seal a NCAA championship since 2008. C’mon guys.
  6. Josh Selby: Worst one-and-done in the history of one-and-dones.
  7. Elitism: It’s a part of the fandom that comes with the (basketball) program. But, Kansas fans have to admit that we hate losing, and we can all be jerks sometimes.
  8. “What does ‘Rock Chalk’ mean?”: Google it. Thanks.
  9. The school song: Everyone gets the clap during the song wrong. That’s what traditions night in August is for — go and learn it.
  10. Aqib Talib: Who wants to be associated with an eye-poker?
  11. Camping: It’s more of a love/hate relationship. It’s an honor, but if your camping group sucks, basketball season sucks. Trust me, I know.
  12. Uncertainty: Sometimes the best players on the court in the college setting seem to flop in the NBA. (Where’s Xavier Henry? Cole Aldrich? No one cares about Nick Collison…) Side note: At least, Wiggins is starting to make a name for himself.
  13. The Jayhawk: It’s a mythical creature and impossible to explain. (But, I love it.)
  14. Wichita State: Now, these guys are trying to claim the state of Kansas as theirs in basketball. Hmmm…NOPE.
  15. Lawrence: You never wanna leave because it’s such a wonderful place. Everywhere else pales in comparison.

Let the kid play

Let the kid play

By Heather Nelson

(Published on November 23, 2015)

The University of Kansas men’s basketball team anxiously waits for one of its teammates to finally be able to join the team on the court.

Freshman top-recruit from Mali, Cheick Diallo, remains on the bench — in limbo — due to NCAA ineligibility. The NCAA has held Diallo in this state for the past six months. Kansas coach Bill Self and the university’s athletics department can no longer tolerate it.

I can also no longer tolerate it.

Self spoke out Saturday in a conference call with ESPN and CBS Sports against the NCAA’s treatment of the Diallo case. He said that information on the case had been withheld from KU prior to this month. Self also said it seems the NCAA isn’t making much of an effort to further the case.

Diallo spent almost three years at Our Savior New American High School, a private school  in Centereach, N.Y. (He left Mali in 2012 hoping to pursue basketball.) The problem is that the NCAA placed Our Savior New American High School under review in 2012, which could potentially nullify Diallo’s main coursework.

This is frustrating because a young kid from Mali left his home and family to follow the American dream. Diallo was not aware that Our Savior was under NCAA investigation.

I looked over the NCAA freshman eligibility guidelines because Diallo is not the only recruit dealing with this problem. The University of Central Florida’s freshman recruit, originally from Senegal, Tacko Fall, faced ineligibility this season, too. But the NCAA requirements are no different from what a college requires students to complete before being admitted to a school. In Diallo’s case, the University of Kansas obviously admitted him. Diallo told ESPN, recently, that he received an A and a B in the two summer courses he took at Kansas; he’s in 15 credit hours this fall. Honestly, he’s already doing better in his first semester in college than I did.

Tell me why I shouldn’t be mad that Diallo is still on the bench.

If Self speaking out wasn’t enough, the University of Kansas penned a six page letter to the NCAA, which addresses its concerns in the Diallo case.  The letter, dated Nov. 10, is signed by Kansas Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger. The letter reprimands the NCAA investigation of the Cheick Diallo case — most of it relates back to the fact that the institution hasn’t promptly completed tasks or worked with the university to come to a conclusion.

In the second paragraph of the letter, Zenger writes that the university has spent nearly “six figures” on the investigation, but the university would “wholeheartedly support such exorbitant expenditures because we have uncovered serious and legitimate misrepresentations attributed to the NCAA process.” Later in the letter, Zenger refers to the numerous times Kansas representatives visited Our Savior New American High School. NCAA officials have not.

While the letter pins all of the blame on the NCAA, I’ve got to be skeptical of how much the university exaggerated to make their point. Regardless, a decision needs to be made. Zenger is correct about the lack of partnership between the institutions. Instead of fighting each other on the issue, the institutions need to work together to fix it. Diallo’s eligibility needs to be decided immediately. The NCAA has no reason to keep the investigation going.

Even without Diallo, I’m confident in the basketball team that Self is able to put on the floor, however, that’s not the point. Let the kid play. Give Diallo the opportunity to pursue the American dream. If he wants to be a one-and-done, let him.

NCAA, stop giving people a reason to hate you, and let the kid play.

*Editor’s note: Cheick Diallo was cleared for play in late November. His debut was the December 1 game at home against Loyola Maryland.

A lesson on change

A lesson on change

Change. It’s inevitable. It’s one of those “unknown” things that always rocked me. I’ve never been of a fan of it, especially when I least expect it. I’m a creature of habit, so much so, that I order the same latte at Starbucks.

“Try something new,” they say.

“But what if I don’t like it?” I whine.

I’ve fallen into this cycle of habitual living. It’s seeped into my core. How do you fix it, overcome it? You make change.

I lived at home for a whole year following my graduation from college. I never planned this — I never planned on being jobless upon earning my degree either. Sometimes life throws things at you that you don’t plan for. But, living on my own wasn’t an option so I moved home with my parents. Almost all of my family lived within short driving distance of me, and I got used to being at home and a part of family shenanigans. But, even with all of that, I became bored and complacent. I scouted out new ventures, whether it caused me to move across the country or just a few miles from home. 

I moved back to the Kansas City-area about a month ago, now. I didn’t move for a journalism job, and yes, that was slightly disappointing and embarrassing for me to admit to people. I strongly desire to make ground in my field, and too often, I care about what other people think of me. It shouldn’t matter. I shouldn’t need approval. And, yet, I do.

It’s been rough but I’d feel more miserable if I gave up on my dreams. I live with a phenomenal example of how to pursue those dreams. Without even knowing it (or maybe she does), she pushes me to do better, to push myself. At home, I didn’t have the same sort of mindset. The goals I have for myself won’t be achieved without hard work.

Nothing about the path that I want to take in life will be “easy.” Female sports writers are constantly criticized and questioned. Journalism isn’t an easy field to make a name for yourself. Sports journalism is even harder. As a woman, it’s 100 times harder — it’s a boys club. Nothing is going to stop me from achieving my goals and those become more clear each day. I’ve known since high school that I wanted to pursue sports writing, but I’ve known even longer that I wanted to spend the rest of my life writing.

This is my passion. There are many different roads that will lead me to where I want to be. It’s a part of the process. There’s a need for more women in the sports industry. I want to be a part of that change; I want to be a trailblazer for other women, who, like me, want to pursue a career that they’re passionate about. And that’s exactly what I’ll do: be a part of the change. 
Change isn’t all bad.